Topic: Brickfilming Discussion Week 9: Modding and Mega-bloks

Welcome to the Weekly Bricks in Motion Filmmaking & Brickfilming Discussion thread!
These threads are designed to inspire discussion, debate and discourse on the topics of filmmaking, brickfilming, storytelling and LEGO. Each week I will start a new thread with a new discussion topic. Everyone is welcome to contribute as long as you have something thoughtful to say. Paragraphs are encouraged! If you are going to participate in this thread, please keep the discussion civil and refrain from pointless jokes, image macros, or “memes.”

Please stay on topic and keep your comments civil and respectful of other members.

Feel free to continue to contribute to the previous discussion threads as well. Just because they are older doesn't mean they aren't relevant any more!

Previous Discussions:
Week 1: Why LEGO?
Week 2: Dealing with the Mockers
Week 3: Brickfilms with Licensed Themes
Week 4: Challenges Unique to Brickfilmers
Week 5: For Mature Audiences Only
Week 6: Please Like, Comment and Subscribe
Week 7: Areas of Improvement
Week 8: Be Inspired

This week’s discussion topic:

What is your opinion on using non-LEGO brands or elements (Mega-bloks, paper, clay, lights, other toys, etc)  and/or modifying LEGO (cutting, melting, stickering, engraving, painting, etc) in brickfilms?

Re: Brickfilming Discussion Week 9: Modding and Mega-bloks

I'm fine with modding and using things like clay.  However I personally think Mega-bloks are pure evil.

Re: Brickfilming Discussion Week 9: Modding and Mega-bloks

I don't really understand why people have such a deep seated hatred for Mega-Bloks. I don't personally buy anything from them (although I somehow got some bricks from them a long time ago), but I can understand why people would want a cheaper alternative to Lego. I do dislike some of the other knockoff Lego brands out there, but that's because they break ridiculously easily.

Re: Brickfilming Discussion Week 9: Modding and Mega-bloks

Personally I'm not fond of it.  If you add another element to the scene, it often looks inconsistent with the LEGO bricks and disrupts the visual look of the film.  Having that consistency in the style of toy you are using is important.

However, if someone makes a custom print that look exactly like the sort of print the LEGO Company would make, then that's wonderful.  However, most people do not posses the capabilities to make such custom prints.  If someone tries to draw or paint upon a figure there are often many imperfections which show up really horribly in the close ups we often do of our tiny subjects.

I do, however, use a painted canvas background, but it says far out of focus and just looks like a consistent azure blue.

I do very much like the use of cloth paper and lights, though.  Printed paper stick on torsos are miserable, but having a paper sail or coloured paper background looks pretty nice.  LEGO itself often uses a sort of fabric that looks sort of papery on sails, so it seems fitting to me.
As far as lights go, you usually don't actually properly see the bulb itself, usually it's just the light from it shining through a brick which should ideally give it the look as thought the brick itself is creating the light.

As for harming actual LEGO bricks, for some reason seeing a LEGO brick that has been purposefully damaged makes me feel uncomfortable inside, much it the way one might feel uncomfortable from seeing someone will a bloody wound.

Re: Brickfilming Discussion Week 9: Modding and Mega-bloks

personally i just use whatever i have to try and figure out how to make the shot look the way i want it to... ive often chewed on the necks of minifig heads just to make them wobble while on the torso, to make for more interesting movement

ill use mega blocks or clay or whatever and modify bricks (snap them in half, drill holes in them, etc) just because i value animation over the preservation of a toy

im not a lego purist at all omg

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Re: Brickfilming Discussion Week 9: Modding and Mega-bloks

I used to be much more of a LEGO purist, the farthest I'd go was to switch out the "arm" pieces on torsos, and nothing more. However I've changed, as many people do, since I first started brickfilming.

Restricting yourself to just one brand is not allowing yourself access to the potential that the other sets/brands can offer you. For instance, I've always wanted to make an original Sci-Fi brickfilm, love Johnny Thunder and Egyptian sets, and, as I'm a bit of a fan of the Stargate series, I decided to buy a "Best-Lock" SG:1 spaceship set. Sure, the pieces are of the same quality of disposable army-men, and nowhere near the quality of LEGO products, but, I think it was worth the 15 dollars I payed for it; The set's big, and, it has pieces I know I'll use for both Johnny Thunder AND an original Sci-Fi brickfilm. - If I hadn't have gotten it, I would have been limiting myself, and thus, making some future projects of mine harder to fully realize with what was already available to me...

Another good example of a good opportunity brought about by another brand was this recent K'nex Yellow Submarine set I got. Not only am I a HUGE Beatles fan, but, I actually needed some of the pieces in the set, as, LEGO doesn't make anything similar/I couldn't find similar pieces on Bricklink. Thus, I took a chance, bought the set, and can say that I really enjoy it - Actually, I enjoy it so much, I actually like the K'nex figures more than LEGO minifigures!

To put things into perspective, would you ONLY eat at McDonalds for the rest of your life, or, do you think that you'll try some other fast food/home cooked meals ever again? ... Most people don't swear allegiance to one name-brand for their whole lives when it comes to food, clothes, or other appliances; so why do some brickfilmers refuse to animate with anything other than LEGO? - That's certainly a question in my mind that spawned just after reading Nathan's topic.

Onto the subject of altering/modifying LEGO:

Again, when I started out, I was much more of a purist. However, even back then, sometimes I'd opt for using a head that had teeth marks (courtesy of my little brother) for a villain minifig, rather than using a brand-new one. Sometimes, such things can really add to a picture, even if they are but small details.

I think that Doug Vandegrift did sort of the same thing for his "America: Outlawed" brickfilm; He choose not to dust-off his old western sets, as, the dust gave them more of a rustic and run-down look, something that an old western town would have had. When you watch his film, you don't really notice any of this, yet, just the fact that it's there did probably help inspire the filmmaker while making the film - and that's something truly special.

Just look at Vitruvius in "The LEGO Movie" - His staff is just a chewed up candy-stick. Not only does this give the character an abnormally large staff, something exclusive to only him, but it also just goes to show that the directors and animators really were thinking outside of the box when choosing props. I'd love to see more of that kind of innovation in brickfilms.

BTW, though I never plan on making a Lone Ranger brickfilm (at least, not at this present time) When I got some LEGO Lone Ranger sets, I realized that he looked so... old, compared to the Lone Ranger figure that comes with the Disney Infinity game set. The Infinity figure not only looks much more like the Lone Ranger, as seen in the recent film, but he also looks much younger, and not bald - just as the Lone Ranger should. So, I took one of these pieces, (which I have WAY too many of, as it is) sanded the top of it, and basically made it fit on the Lone Ranger's hat like this: Not only does it satisfy me for a display figure, If I even did decide to make a Lone Ranger brickfilm, I'd probably opt for using my custom one over the official LEGO minifig.

Again, I think that it all boils down to style and preference. I've edited pieces and done such things as I've described because I think it not only benefits the brickfilm, but, also makes the LEGO more aesthetically pleasing to me.

Re: Brickfilming Discussion Week 9: Modding and Mega-bloks

I don't like 3rd party brands for some reason, But boy have I ruined a lot of good LEGO bricks in my time.

Back when I was into LEGO military videos, I decided to make my own WWII german troops (I was such an idiot). I took a bunch of starwars minifigures I thought I didn't need (some of which I would love to have now) and painted over them. I ruined about ten or 12 of them I think. They turned out awful too. Here was a video I made with them on my first channel when I was 9 or 10:

I was such an idiot. I don't modify much stuff anymore, but I still cut those stick/axehandle bricks in half to make pencils, pens, and cigars for my minifigures though.

no more brickfilming *sad face*.

Re: Brickfilming Discussion Week 9: Modding and Mega-bloks

I'm pretty much a Lego purist.  I not only do not use off-brand blocks, in my main series, I do not allow anything to be seen that's not Lego, except a sky-colored wall that I sometimes use as sky, and sticky putty which I do my best to conceal.  Moreover, all special effects are done in-camera, without CGI or photoshopping/masking, chroma keying of any kind (except for captions).  I even wrote a chapter in my Brickfilming guide for people who wish to pursue a purist approach.

That said, I have no problem with special effects, clay, non-lego bricks, non-construction toy elements, or any other means to mix Lego with other media, even in any of my own projects that aren't "Holding Our Own".  Let's not forget that the godfather of Brickfilms, THE MAGIC PORTAL, uses clay, sneakers, live action footage, and common objects in conjunction with Lego pieces.

But I HATE those accursed MMmmm mnnnnnngngngnnnnnmmm....  Mega-Bloks!

"None practice tolerance less frequently than those who most loudly preach it."

Re: Brickfilming Discussion Week 9: Modding and Mega-bloks

PushOverProductions wrote:

I don't like 3rd party brands for some reason...

HoldingOurOwn wrote:

But I HATE those accursed MMmmm mnnnnnngngngnnnnnmmm....  Mega-Bloks!

Mega Blocks not only has the highest standard of quality, under LEGO, for construction toys, but, Mega Blocks also has improved so much so, that they're now almost up to the LEGO quality standard that was in place before the color change! I think that many hate on these other brands, especially Mega Blocks, just because they aren't quite as good as LEGO. Personally, I don't think that it will always be like this - I think that one day, whether it's tomorrow, or 7 years from now, Mega Blocks, out of all the other brands, will probably be even closer to the LEGO quality standard!

Besides, it doesn't really matter what the figures are made of, or how easy they are to animate, the only thing that matters is what is shown in the final film. (I learned this lesson the hard way) Sure, I don't want to get bogged down using stiff pieces, or even pieces that could stain my fingers, however, as long at it gets your story out there, and benefits the final film, then you've done your job.

I don't mean any disrespect to animators, crew, or even the production process, however, none of that is (or should be) in the minds of the viewer or critic. Thus, I think it's perfectly fine to use other brands, especially if LEGO is just too expensive for you. I'd rather see brickfilmers make films with Mega Blocks than to have these brickfilmers silenced by lack of pieces/equipment.

PushOverProductions wrote:

I took a bunch of starwars minifigures I thought I didn't need (some of which I would love to have now) and painted over them.

I can't say this for everyone, but, I do believe that a lot of us have done this. Perhaps due to the saturation of Star Wars sets on the market, it's easy to over-estimate certain parts/pieces, and destroy/paint over them. I, too, was guilty of this earlier in my brickfilming years, and, thankfully, don't miss many of these pieces. Though, I understand where you're coming from, PushOverProductions; I think we all are missing/lacking pieces that we used to take for granted...

HoldingOurOwn wrote:

Let's not forget that the godfather of Brickfilms, THE MAGIC PORTAL, uses clay, sneakers, live action footage, and common objects in conjunction with Lego pieces.

Exactly! Though, I think that "The Magic Portal" NEEDED the clay, sneakers, and paint cans, as, they really benefited the story, and, as with

Spoiler (click to read)

The LEGO Movie's ending

sets the tone for the "real world," which perfectly contrasts that of a purely LEGO one. However, I can see that if a purist wouldn't appreciate a sneaker being used as a house in a brickfilm, especially if it didn't match the tone of the rest of the story.

Re: Brickfilming Discussion Week 9: Modding and Mega-bloks

I don't like custom elements much.  Things like BrickArms tend to look hyper-detailed and therefore incongruous next to official LEGO stuff (although I do like the look of a few custom elements, and things like the BrickArms U-clip would be fantastically useful for MOCs).  They also tend to be horrendously expensive and I don't have the money for that sort of thing.  As far as megabloks and their ilk go, I wouldn't touch them with a barge pole. 

As far as modifying LEGO elements themselves, I don't like it much either.  Unless you're really, really good at it, it invariably looks crude and amateurish, and ruins the look.  I shudder every time I see someone who deliberately damaged or "dirtied" a minifig to make it look "realistic" (modern military builders are especially egregious in this regard).  LEGO isn't realistic to begin with, and if you do that it just looks like a four-year-old chewed on it, then stamped it into the dirt.  Plus, LEGO is expensive, so scuffing it up and damaging it isn't really a good idea under any circumstances.

At the end of the day, it just feels like cheating to me.  In my mind, it feels a lot more creative to build, say, a weapon out of official LEGO elements than relying on a custom element.  To me, that has always been part of the fun and challenge of LEGO.  Besides, it usually looks better too in comparison to hyper-detailed custom moulds. 

However, using miniature lights or a non-LEGO background backdrop (for skies and suchlike) is a completely different kettle of fish to me, and I'd be perfectly OK with using those.  Miniature lights (such as LifeLites) are  beautiful if used correctly, especially in night-time scenes, and it often helps immerse one into the atmosphere and scenery of a brickfilm.  I myself am contemplating possibly getting LifeLites at some point in the future, and I'll probably need to get a sky background very soon.

Dyland wrote:

To put things into perspective, would you ONLY eat at McDonalds for the rest of your life, or, do you think that you'll try some other fast food/home cooked meals ever again? ... Most people don't swear allegiance to one name-brand for their whole lives when it comes to food, clothes, or other appliances; so why do some brickfilmers refuse to animate with anything other than LEGO? - That's certainly a question in my mind that spawned just after reading Nathan's topic.

To be perfectly honest, I don't understand this logic at all.  I feel your analogy would be more appropriate if a person only bought, say, Castle sets and considered all of LEGO's other themes inferior simply because they're different themes.  It's not as if LEGO and Megabloks are of equal quality; Megabloks is clearly an inferior knock-off brand that copies LEGO's system.  I mean, given the choice, would you rather buy a brand new Ferrari or a beaten-up Fiat Multipla?  Or would you pick a dubious unhygienic greasy diner with shady characters and food of mysterious origin (which possibly comes with complimentary "extra protein" and food poisoning) over a great restaurant with a good food-hygiene ratings, nice atmosphere and delicious food?

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Re: Brickfilming Discussion Week 9: Modding and Mega-bloks

I'm pretty much okay with everything you listed except for Mega-Blocks. Literally everything else could add to the story and Brickfilm in some way, but Mega-Blocks/Imitation LEGO only serve to give films a cheap feel for me. There really is no substitute for the real deal in my mind.

But like i said, everything else may be used in some way that can enhance films. Like others stated, Magic Portal greatly benefited from using the non-LEGO elements as a way to juxtapose the characters into the real world. It was SUPPOSED to look out of place and strange.

But I think that several other Brickfilmers have used non-LEGO elements to great effect. Captain Bulldog comes to mind as a great example of how to do this right.

(Speaking of Captain Bulldog, does anyone know where I could find the second part of his "Pilgrim's Son" Brickfilm? It seems to have been blocked due to using copyrighted music, and it's one of my favorite brickfilms so it would be sad to lose it.)
Youtube @TheRealSonjira I consider it a personal defeat if my pee is not perfectly clear every time.]

Re: Brickfilming Discussion Week 9: Modding and Mega-bloks

I would happily eat at the same resturant every day provided it had a large menu, healthy options, and wasn't a bad deal. Luckily, LEGO fits this bill.

Has anyone got the wine list?


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Re: Brickfilming Discussion Week 9: Modding and Mega-bloks

I dislike cheap knockoffs of LEGO, including Mega Bloks, for the simple reason that if you mix their bricks with LEGO bricks you can see a vast difference in quality. If a wall is half-Mega Bloks and half-LEGO, it looks odd. Knockoffs are usually a much lower quality of plastic, which shows up really clearly both to the naked eye and on camera (and I hate the creepy-jointed Mega Bloks minifigures). I see no problem in playing with Mega Bloks, but for other blatant ripoffs that have no identity of their own I don't want to give them my money. It also annoys me how eBay is oversaturated with knockoff, low quality Star Wars and Superheroes minifigures. A lot of these will start circulating in peoples' collections with people assuming they're real.

Paper and card I have no problem using for backdrops. I don't have a lot of bricks for walls and stuff, so card backdrops are a massive blessing that allow me to make the sets I want without necessarily having to worry about not having enough of the right pieces.

Thanks to a friend who used to collect them but no longer has any interest in LEGO, I have a few Brickarms weapons. Though they're reasonably good quality, I never actually use them. I'm not sure why. One of them is green and perfect for the Joker (it's just a shame I don't have a Joker minifig).

As for modding LEGO pieces, I do decals all the time: printing off torsos and faces to pritt-stick onto a minifigure. Normally, they look pretty good (unless I'm trying to print a black torso, which rarely works as well as I'd like). It's pretty easy to find official-quality (or near enough) torso decals, and I only go for ones that I think are of said quality. How else would I be able to make Blue Lantern, or Odyssey-arc Wonder Woman, or even simply a red leather jacket torso, if they don't (or in the case of the first two, probably will never) appear in a set?

I don't like actually damaging bricks though. We've all accidentally broken parts over the years, but it honestly feels wrong to pruposefully destroy a piece. Keshen8's recent Avicii commission was really good, but it was a little disturbing how many 2x4 bricks he drilled apart for that. I could never bring myself to do that. I find needless/recreational destruction in general quite unsettling.
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Re: Brickfilming Discussion Week 9: Modding and Mega-bloks

I understand that nmmmmnnnngggnnnnngh... Mega Bloks have improved from the days that their bricks were inconsistently colored and the plastic was super-cheap.  But I follow what's going on inside the toy industry closely.  Mega-Bloks stole the tube coupling device that Lego invented and sold them as their own.  A court in Europe ruled (inexpicably to me) that Lego can not hold the patent to the tube coupling device, and Mega Brands won the right to use the stolen invention.  This led to other companies to follow suit and produce their own Lego knock-offs (Kre-O, C3, etc.)  You can't blame them for capitalizing on what is deemed legal, but it was because of Mega Brands' philosophy that I don't support them today.

"None practice tolerance less frequently than those who most loudly preach it."

Re: Brickfilming Discussion Week 9: Modding and Mega-bloks

Well, this has always been a touchy subject among AFOLs.
For me, it's less about brand, than it is about a consistent look and quality.

For example, back in 2012 Mega Bloks came on the site and asked people to participate in their contest.
Some of the members here made great entries that look fine as films. But every single one had a totally different look than a normal Lego film. No problem, not inferior, just different. It looked more like small toys in motion than Lego normally does, or at least that's what I think.

As for using then in an animation, I've nothing against it. But most knock-off stuff doesn't look right next to real Lego and thus sticks out in a bad way. That being said, if something can blend in, (Tyco) or has something that still looks right, (Brickarms, select other accessories.) then it can just hop right in unnoticed and I've no problem with it. But if something sticks out, there has to be a reason it's there. (Brickwarriors is worse than most,* but also some Brickforge and Mega-Bloks) It throws off the consistent world look like one yellow face in a crowd of fleshies. If all the figures are Mega-Bloks, then the film gains that look, and can continue on perfectly fine. It's the same reason Dulpo blocks don't go in a normal Lego city, not the brand, but the look.

And I hear that Mega is getting better quality, but I just don't like the super-detailed look, nor the appearance of the cheaper plastic. And their stuff really isn't that much better for the price.

So that's my opinion. If it can blend in, use it. If not, either everything needs to have that look, or there needs to be a special reason. And that goes for background stuff as well. Real-life background plates usually don't look right, but when used well, Lifelites can really complement the scene. Clay usually gets a free pass from most, but if it's too visible it becomes distracting and needs to go. Stuff like paper backgrounds, and cloth in some circumstances, can look just fine. (Custom capes can be really sweet.) But complete other toys, (Say, Playmoblie) generally need to stay out unless the film. But many of these guidelines are null and void if the film is set in the real world. (Namechild's stuff embraces that real-world look and excels like no other, but that feel isn't for everyone or every film either.)

As for modding Lego, first, it has to be a good job. If it's terrible, there's absolutely no excuse. Assuming it's well done, customs can be great, stickers just fine, and engraving is permissible. It has a purpose, it looks good, and stuff like a tile with your name engraved on it can be really, really cool.

But I flinch every time I see a Lego piece just destroyed.
Why? I mean, once that scene is filmed, it's useless. There's no purpose, only wanton destruction that didn't need to harm the Precious. Lego bricks. Sure, it can sometimes look amazing, but I feel the cost is too high. So no, I don't advocate destroying Lego. Now, limited modding maybe. It depends on the case. But generally unless the end result is something good and complete, it's best to leave it as is.

*This seems really hypocritical after seeing their generosity with the BRAWL prizes, but nevertheless it still sticks out a lot. But most custom accessory places lean a bit too far away from the Lego look, so it's not just them.

Re: Brickfilming Discussion Week 9: Modding and Mega-bloks

I don't particularly have anything against the other brands, although Mega Blox has a negative connotation for me because I had one set when I was little that just refused to stay together, which bugged me to no end. I tend to stick to the purist path because of my love of LEGO. When I started brickfilming I had no interest in film at all, but I loved LEGO, and the thought of bringing it to life was enticing. It wasn't about the film I was making, it was about the LEGO, so there was no place for clay, other brands, etc. I've grown quite a bit now, and I'm totally okay with clay, custom bricks, and the rest, as long as it suits the film. Look at Coffee and Carnage, clay really enhances the film in a way that say, red studs, couldn't. Some films are best kept purist, while others are appropriate for, or even made better by, the inclusion of elements from outside of the LEGO system.

Re: Brickfilming Discussion Week 9: Modding and Mega-bloks

This is quite an interesting discussion this week, and I am glad it has finally come up.
I more or less, like anyone on this website, grew up with Lego as the ultimate toy, in which nothing could best it. Lego was the only construction toy I purchased for the better part of 13+ years, but that stopped after last summer, as I bought a few of the Halo Mega Bloks blindbags (which were priced at 79p) to see the quality of them, and the fact that I was a sort of Halo nerd.
I honestly have nothing against these third party brands, but if Lego stopped today, and these brands were to take over the toy industy like Lego was about to, then I would be annoyed.
Now on to modification. Great Gordan I do like it! For the better part of 3 years I have been sucked into the Non-purist community, which is a great place. I have managed to make custom minifigures and bricks, mainly just for show and tell, with them having little to none appearences in my film. A Brickfilm I have just started has a modified Lego piece, to allow it to move objects on animation.
A great topic for this week, Nathan!

Re: Brickfilming Discussion Week 9: Modding and Mega-bloks

I don't mind LEGO knock offs, but it looks really weird if you use them with LEGO. I have a bunch of LEGO knock offs because my friends give them to me as gifts, since they are cheaper I guess. I'm fine with that because, believe it or not, these can be super useful. I don't have much LEGO so when it comes to adding unseen structural support I can use those! As for modified LEGO pieces, I don't do it myself unless I need to, since my lack of bricks. As for destroying bricks for brickfilms, I don't actually care about that. I just wouldn't do it myself because it would be a waste.

Re: Brickfilming Discussion Week 9: Modding and Mega-bloks

By the way, I do have a lot of early Kre-O transformer sets, but they are not allowed to associate w/ my Lego, and I punish them if they do.

Last edited by HoldingOurOwn (July 9, 2014 (01:26pm))

"None practice tolerance less frequently than those who most loudly preach it."

Re: Brickfilming Discussion Week 9: Modding and Mega-bloks

BrickArms all the way! I love custom figs, too. Not when they're overly painted or customized. That's just too much. Some customisation is fine for me thouh. I loathe clonebrands, by the way. I'm sad about the fact that i actually have some.